Helen Magill White

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Helen White (Magill)

Birthdate: (90)
Birthplace: Providence, RI, United States
Death: October 28, 1944 (90)
ME, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Edward Hicks Magill
Wife of Andrew Dickson White, 1st President of Cornell University
Mother of Karin White

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Helen Magill White


Helen Magill White (b. November 28, 1853, Providence, Rhode Island — d. October 28, 1944, Kittery Point, Maine) was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in the United States.

Raised in a Quaker family, White always believed that she was deserving of the same education as a man. In 1859, the family moved to Boston, where Helen signed up as the only female student in the Boston Public Latin School, where her father taught French and Latin for three years, then became submaster. She attended Swarthmore College–her father, Edward Hicks Magill, having joined its faculty in 1869 and having begun in 1871 his 17-year tenure as its second president. She graduated as a member of the Class of 1873, Swarthmore's first graduating class (five women and one man).

She thereafter studied at Boston University, where she earned her Ph.D in Greek in 1877–thereby becoming the first woman to earn the Ph.D. in the United States. After that, up until 1881, she studied in England at the University of Cambridge, placing third in her tripos (honors examinations) at Newnham College.

After being the principal for a year at a private school in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, she was selected in 1883 to organize Howard Collegiate Institute, in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. She was the director of Howard until 1887, when she resigned. She taught for a short amount of time at Evelyn College, a women's annex to Princeton University. She then suffered an illness for the next few years, while she taught at a high school.

Helen met Andrew D. White, the retired president of Cornell University, while presenting a paper at the American Social Science Association in 1887, and married him in September 1890. White was also a college classmate of Magill's father, Edward Hicks Magill. Helen accompanied her husband to his diplomatic posts in St. Petersburg (1892-94) and Berlin (1897-1903). She didn’t participate in public or educational affairs after that, except to oppose women's suffrage publicly in 1913. After White died in 1918, she lived abroad and in Ithaca, New York; she retired to Kittery Point, Maine, where she died in 1944.

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Helen Magill White's Timeline

November 28, 1853
Providence, RI, United States
October 28, 1944
Age 90
ME, United States